HALIFAX — A public inquiry heard evidence Wednesday that the Nova Scotia gunman who murdered 22 people in 2020 shot himself in the head within seconds of two officers firing on him.
Dr. Matthew Bowes, the province's chief medical examiner, testified that the best explanation for fragments found in the killer's head is that he fired a bullet into his own temple, while also saying he might have survived the injury for "minutes" at the Enfield, N.S., scene.
"I think that's what makes the most sense," Bowes answered, when a lawyer for the victims' families asked him if the wound was self-inflicted.
However, Bowes concluded the cause of death was from the gunshot wounds inflicted by the RCMP constables who opened fire shortly after 11:25 a.m. on April 19, 2020, after they happened upon the gunman at a gas station.
The medical examiner said the hail of officer gunfire caused damage to the killer's major organs that "would normally kill a person in seconds."
The death came after Const. Craig Hubley, a dog handler, and Const. Ben MacLeod, an emergency response team officer, pulled into the gas station north of Halifax to fill up at a pump beside the one where the killer had stopped.
The RCMP members were unaware that the killer had switched from a silver SUV belonging to one of his victims, Joey Webber, and was now driving a Mazda belonging to Gina Goulet, whom the killer had murdered about 25 minutes earlier.
In addition, the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, was now wearing only a T-shirt rather than the police shirt and fluorescent vest he'd been seen in earlier.
However, as Hubley exited his vehicle he noticed a large bruise and bleeding from the head of the man in the car next to him. Commission lawyer Anna Mancini said the officer found it strange the man had not done anything to treat the wound.
As well, she said Hubley had studied photographs of the perpetrator, which is why he recognized him as he stepped out and peered between the pumps. "It's him!" he yelled to his partner.
"At that time, he saw the perpetrator raise a firearm ... and Const. Hubley discharged his firearm and ultimately moved to cover," Mancini said.
MacLeod moved around to the front of the officers' SUV as Hubley recognized the perpetrator and "he did see the individual raise a firearm, and at that point he discharged his firearm," Mancini said.
The inquiry listened to recordings of the two officers' frantic radio transmissions, which started with MacLeod shouting, "Enfield Big Stop, Enfield Big Stop .... Your cover. Back up! Back up! Your cover. Don't rush here now .... Don't know this guy." He then yells an obscenity and rapid gunfire can be heard.
There's no firm conclusion from the summary released Wednesday of the precise moment when Wortman shot himself.
The forensic evidence released by the inquiry shows the pistol in the killer's hand belonged to Const. Heidi Stevenson, whom the perpetrator murdered after driving into her patrol car that morning.
The inquiry's summary says it's plausible a second minor wound to the killer's head — which created the bleeding Hubley spotted — came from a bullet fired at the killer by Stevenson as they exchanged fire.
Just minutes earlier, at about 11:16 a.m., another team of officers had also been alongside the killer at another gas station in nearby Elmsdale, N.S., but the emergency response officer who stood close to Wortman didn't recognize him.
Const. Brent Kelly, the officer across from the killer, said he seemed to be having the same difficulty as Kelly's fellow RCMP officer in getting the gas pumps to work.
"He was just like ... literally doing the exact same thing (Const.) Andrew Ryan was doing. Trying to get a pump (to) work," Kelly recalled in his interview with the commission.
"I noticed there was like a slight bump over his (the killer's) left eye ... I really didn't pay too much attention to a guy with a shiner," he added.
The atmosphere at the time was tense and somewhat chaotic, with officers attempting to stop what had by then been almost 13 hours of killing and destruction in multiple communities.
The summary briefly discusses an incident involving RCMP constables Terry Brown and Dave Melanson, who earlier in the day had fired at an emergency measures officer — mistaking him for the perpetrator — at a firehall, and then carried on in pursuit of the killer.
According to the inquiry summary, the two passed through a police checkpoint and saw a man standing behind a white pickup truck, wearing camouflage, and holding a firearm. The document says they were preparing to "challenge the man," when they were told over the radio he was a Halifax police officer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2022.
Michael Tutton and Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press